Last December we had the good fortune to visit one of the funniest sets ever erected in the heart of New York City. It was Christmas time in Rockefeller Center. There was a chill in the air, the tree was lit up like a bonfire, and we were surrounded by throngs of tourists as we made our way into the world famous 30 Rock building. Security made sure to skip the cavity search as our crew of journalists headed upstairs, where we were to witness comedy gold in the making.
Yes, we were on the set of Sony Pictures The Other Guys. In this uproarious summer comedy, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson play the toughest cops in town; partners who are taken out of the equation due to an unfortunate mishap. Insert Mark Wahlberg (Detective Hoitz) and Will Ferrell (Detective Gamble), two wannabe desk jockeys who see a chance at the detective spotlight now that these top dogs have been pulled out of the game. Our two bumbling idiots are the laughing stock of the precinct, and a continual thorn in the side of their Captain (Michael Keaton). Will they make good and save the day? You can never be too sure with director Adam McKay at the helm.
As soon as we arrived on location, we were ushered into a room that was built to resemble a disheveled office. Our escort set us in front of a monitor, offering us a set of headphones to hear the action. Our attention was quite distracted by the comely extras milling about the set. It is here that we got our first glimpse of Wahlberg and Ferrell in action. The pair sailed right past us to greet a group of Make-a-Wish kids who'd long dreamed of meeting both the popular comedian and his co-star. It was quite nice to see two big stars such as Will and Mark take time out of their busy schedule to chat with a couple of ailing children.
It wasn't long before Adam McKay was yelling at his two actors to hit their mark. Sick kids be damned, it was time for the first shot of the day. And the children were quite anxious to see their favorite actors at work. "Action", was called and the two nudnik cops stumbled into this mess of an office. Hot on their heels came two other police officers played by Damon Wayans Jr. and Rob Riggle. A pair set on verbally destroying our would-be heroes. Embarrassed, Wahlberg's Detective Terry Hoitz sulked out of the room with his head down. Will's Detective Allen Gamble took this opportunity to slap Damon Wayans Jr.. We're not sure if this moment was a bit of clever ad-libbing on Ferrell's part. Or if it was actually in the script. Michael Keaton followed the motion by entering the scene to berate the two loser cops. His tirade caused a few of the extras to laugh out loud, which was welcomed on this very loose set.
For the first few takes, the actors mostly stuck to the script. Then, as is usually the case when it comes to a film directed by Adam McKay, the performers were allowed to go off the page for a bit of colorful improvisation. Each take grew funnier and funnier as the actors became more comfortable within their given surroundings. Here, Wahlberg and Ferrell are meant to be the straight men in the scene. Damon Wayans Jr. and Rob Riggle seize the moment, first attacking their suitors in a tough manner befitting a grizzled pair of New York City beat cops. Soon, Riggle is salting the atmosphere with a gay overture that has everyone in stitches. Each new joke seems to be a hit with the crew, and it's hard to hear the dialogue over all the laughter in the room. In a rare turn, it is Ferrell who gets the least laughs as a quite loner. He takes the brunt of the jokes, which come flying at him fast. His demeanor is disquieting.
This particular scene is shot from many different angles. And the actors are allowed to run through it as many times as they see fit. Each new take is another twenty minutes on the clock. It is amazing to watch the cast and crew keep up their sense of humor for hours on end. With the needed material in the can, the cast takes a few moments out to chat with us. Here is our conversation:
Will Ferrell: This is actually the first movie we've done where I didn't write the script with Adam McKay. Chris Henchy and Adam wrote it. I kind of doubled back and did a rewrite with Adam. This was probably over the course of two-and-a-half months of writing, rewriting. Then I joined in and we did two weeks. We spitball as many ideas as possible, whether they relate to the story or not.
There have been a lot of buddy cop comedies over the years. What made you and Adam decide to make this one?
Mark Wahlberg: I've been dying to do a comedy. These guys took me to dinner and bought a bunch of nice wine. If you do the wrong kind of comedy, you never get a chance to do it again. If you come from my background. Having an opportunity to work with these guys was a real dream come true. Then they actually went through with it and wrote this part that was right up my alley. I get to work with this guy (points to Will Ferrell), so it's a no-brainer for me.
Was it intimidating for you?
Mark Wahlberg: No, they were very clear that they would take me under their wing and protect me. The first time I went to California, I saw a comic who I had watched on television. He gave me the finger and drove away. I don't want to name any names. I always thought comics are completely different from what they appear to be onscreen. You hear stories of how serious they are, how they try to be funny during a take but in-between takes its weird and awkward. These guys aren't like that.
Will Ferrell: We're more weird and awkward. We just thought it would be a great opportunity to comment on the genre. To do what we do and put that spin on the buddy cop movie.
Who's the good cop and who's the bad cop?
Mark Wahlberg: I try to get him to play good cop/bad cop in the movie. I tear into this guy, and next thing you know this guy goes twice as bananas as me.
Will Ferrell: I mishear him, I think he says "bad cop/bad cop".
Mark, what are you learning from Will about comedy improv?
Mark Wahlberg: These guys go non-stop, and not only Will but anybody, whether it's a bit part or a day player, everybody that comes in is on fire. You got to be on your toes. Every time they do a scene you get a couple takes that are written. Then you go nuts. I'm always trying to learn from every single person I work with. If I was ever the most experienced person on set that's when I'd be nervous. That's when I'd be concerned. When you have guys like this around you, you feel like you can do anything you want to do and still come off looking good.
What's it like shooting in New York?
Will Ferrell: We love it. It's such an energy to shoot here. Definitely when you're doing an exterior in a big crowded part of the city there's some issues with people constantly yelling, "Hey Entourage! I love Entourage!"
Mark Wahlberg: Or you tell people to wait for a minute and they just walk right through the shot. Even old ladies! They're like, "I don't give a fuck."
Will Ferrell: It is a living organism, the city that you have to deal with. It's just making us laugh that these characters are in a scene with the Empire State Building in the background. It's so great to feature the city as a character in the movie.
How realistic is this? Your movies have gotten pretty wacky in the past...
Will Ferrell: This might be the most realistic thing. We are real detectives, and we want this stark, real, gritty background so when we throw in these jokes they bounce even higher.
Will Ferrell: There aren't any broad portrayals, or super-over-the-top characters.
Mark Wahlberg: Certainly with me I'm trying to stay as committed as possible no matter how absurd it is, and hopefully that'll translate as funny as opposed to doing pratfalls and shit.
Mark, can you talk about shooting with Derek Jeter?
Mark Wahlberg: That was something they were nice enough to write in for me, and he was dumb enough to do it. I took great pleasure in that, especially after them winning the World Series.
Will Ferrell: We had to openly root for the Yankees this year.
Mark Wahlberg: We wanted them to show up in a good mood. The Red Sox were already out of it anyway, so I was okay with that. I got to have my cake and eat it too. We were sitting there talking and laughing and I told him, "Do you know how this movie's going to play like in Boston when I shoot you in the leg?" Just that is enough to cement me in Boston for the rest of my life.
Adam McKay: You can sort of compare it to what we did with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. We did the race scenes and we said, "We can't do joke race scenes. We gotta make them look as cool as we possibly can," And then cut them to the point where they never get boring. Hopefully that's what we're doing with this. We're shooting the action stuff as best as we possibly can. We do them like we're shooting The Bourne Supremacy. We have a lot of people from the The Bourne movies. Our producer Pat McCrowley and obviously Oliver Wood (Cinematographer) shot all of it. It's actually fantastic, you can literally say, "How would you do this in The Bourne?" There are actually a couple scenes that look kick-ass. We shot a giant shoot-out in a conference room that looked kind of amazing, actually.
How much improve can be mixed in with the written word to make a great film?
Adam McKay: People always ask us that. I think it's like 25%, 20%, that's about right. It makes the actors looser, so what you're getting is more personalized reads out of people. We produced the movie The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard and they improvised on it, but they didn't do it to the degree we like to do it. There where times where they would just do the as-written, and I noticed that the reads are different. When you see movies that are word-for-word, it tends to be more stylized, kind of leaning towards David Mamet. Whereas when you get people improvising, it just has a flow and rhythm to it. And that allows you to be stylized about other stuff, which is good.
How hard is it to keep this film different than what you've done before?
Adam McKay: We wanted it to be a sophisticated, boring jeopardy plot that we then make interesting. So Michael Clayton was another one we looked at, just trying to find that right gauge. But as soon as we started shooting, we realized that New York dictates your look. If you shoot in New York, then New York is your look, so from that sort of base and the coloration of New York, we then started tweaking. It's easily the best looking film we've ever shot, there's no question about it.
Though our interview time was brief, everyone was very forthcoming about the film. More importantly, everyone was very good natured. There is a sense of joy on a Will Ferrell set that you don't find in too many places. Here, nearly a half year later, the trailer looks amazing. And the film is sure to be one of the funniest seen in 2010.